NASA To Launch Next Generation Space Telescope

  • Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will be launched on 16th April on SpaceX Falcon 9. 
  • It will discover exoplanets ranging from gas giants to size of Earth. 
  • During the 2 year mission, the satellite will monitor 200,000 stars less than 300 light years away. 

NASA’s is preparing to launch its advanced space telescope known as Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to find unknown worlds around nearby stars. It’s planned to be launched on 16th April 2018.

TESS is MIT-led NASA’s mission to discover thousands of planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The TESS science office is run by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and MIT.

The spacecraft will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It’s a $87 million contract assigned by NASA.

With the help of Moon’s gravity, the satellite will eventually settle into a 13.7 Earth day orbit. The spacecraft data has no proprietary time and it will be available to public after 4 months of observations.

Objective of TESS

Transiting Exoplanet Survey SatelliteImage Source: NASA

TESS will discover planets ranging from gas giants to size of Earth, orbiting numerous stellar types. The principal aim of this project is to find small planets that have a bright host stars, so that their atmosphere and characteristics can be studied in detail.

During 2 year mission, the satellite will monitor more than 200,000 stars for temporary decrease in brightness due to planetary transits. Transits take place when planet comes in front of its hosting star as observed from Earth.

The Kepler space observatory launched by NASA used the same technique to spot over 2,600 exoplanets, orbiting faint stars 300 – 3,000 light years away from Earth. However, TESS focuses on stars that are up to 100 times brighter and not far than 300 light years. 

It’s supposed to catalog over 1,500 transiting exoplanets, including samples of “Super Earth” with diameters less than twice of Earth and about 500 Earth-sized planets. Furthermore, it will identify some small icy and rocky planets in the habitable zone of their host stars

The Instrument

over of next generation telescope

To perform all sky survey, the satellite uses an array of wide-field camera. It is packed with 4 wide angle telescopes with charge-coupled device detectors, built by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The 4 wide field of view camera feature low power 16.8 Megapixel, low noise charge-couple detector.

Each camera has a 24*24 degree field of view, a 100 millimeter effective pupil diameter, and a bandpass ranging from 600 to 1000 nanometers. The combined field of view is 24*96 degree and f/1.4 focal ratio.

Source: NASA/TESS

The detectors are back-illuminated charge-coupled devices with 4096*4096 pixels packed in 62*62 millimeter area. The imaging has 2048*2048 pixels, while the rest of the pixels would be utilized for frame-store to enable quick, shutterless readout (approximately 4 milliseconds) with less than 10 electrons/second read noise. The detectors work at -75 degree temperature, which decreases dark current to tiny level.

How Data Are Processed?

The data handling unit (space micro image processing computer) processes the data. It stacks images of 2 seconds in a bunch of 60 to generate 30-minute or 2-minute cadence for analysis. Postage stamps and full-frame images are compressed and saved in two 192 GigaBytes solid-state buffer storage card, which is then transferred to Earth when every 13.7 days (when satellite reaches perigee).

Read: NASA’s Mission To “Touch” The Sun | Parker Solar Probe

The will enable researchers to discover astonishing, transient phenomena like the optical counterparts to gamma-ray bursts. Moreover, the satellite will use a Guest Investigator program to allow outside researchers to utilize TESS for their own study.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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